In 1678, the citizens of Hamburg vote in the Senate to build a public opera house on the corner of the Gänsemarkt and the Colonnaden. The opera house is not uncontroversial: the Lutherans are for the idea; but the Pietists regard the theatre as too much of a place of worldly pleasures. Nevertheless, the “Operntheatrum” develops into one of the leading centres of music in Europe. Telemann is the Director of Music of the City of Hamburg starting in 1721; Handel is employed as a violinist and harpsichordist. Financial mismanagement and lack of audience interest lead to an end of the enterprise in 1738, but the building serves as a venue for travelling comedy companies until 1763, when it is torn down.
In 1765, the “Ackermann ́sche Comödiantenhaus” opens with a mixed program of plays and operas. From 1767 on it is called the “Deutsches Nationaltheater,” due to the influence of Lessing. His “Hamburger Dramaturgie” establishes the program of a modern theatre: “When we have pity with kings, then we have it with them as men, and not as kings.” The plays of Lessing, Schiller, Goethe and Shakespeare are given, but soon operas that meet Lessing ́s standards are performed as well: “Die Entführung aus dem Serail”, “Don Giovanni”, “Die Hochzeit des Figaro” and “Die Zauberflöte”; Beethoven ́s “Fidelio” and Weber ́s “Freischütz”. In 1827, the old wooden building on the Gänsemarkt served its purpose, and the new “Stadt-Theater” with a seating capacity of 2800 opens with Goethe ́s “Egmont” on the Dammtorstraße. The long-termfinances of the theatre appear to be finally secure in 1873, when Bernhard Pollini as the house ́s director establishes the institutional support of the theatre through the public authorities. Gustav Mahler is the musical director for six years starting in 1891.
During the First World War, the number of performances is not reduced. In 1925 the stage house is rebuilt, and is used in this form until the present day. After the National Socialists take power in 1933, the “Stadt-Theater” is renamed the “Hamburgische Staatsoper” in 1934. The auditorium is destroyed in an air raid in 1943. The “Stiftung Wiederaufbau der Hamburgischen Staatsoper” raises 1.5 million Marks from sponsors for a new auditorium with 1690 seats, and the opera house opens with Mozart´s “Zauberflöte” on October 15th, 1955.
With the “opera stabile”, an experimental stage is created in 1975. In the following years the Hamburgische Staatsoper is shaped by personalities such as Rolf Liebermann, Günther Rennert, Placido Domingo, August Everding, Götz Friedrich, Christoph von Dohnányi, Peter Ruzicka, Gerd Albrecht, Günter Krämer, Harry Kupfer, Albin Hänseroth, Ingo Metzmacher, Peter Konwitschny, Louwrens Langevoort, Simone Young, Claus Guth, and David Alden. The house commisions new works regularly: outstanding examples are Krzysztof Penderecki´s “Die Teufel von Loudon”, Wolfgang Rihm´s “Die Eroberung von Mexico” or Helmut Lachenmann´s “Das Mädchen mit den Schwefelhölzern”. Since 2015 the tradition of encouraging new works and presenting world premieres has been upheld under the leadership of Georges Delnon and Kent Nagano, with pieces such as Michael Wertmüller’s “Weine nicht, singe”, Toshio Hosokawa’s “Stilles Meer”, “La Passione” by Romeo Castellucci and “Senza Sangue” by Péter Eötvös.
It continues in the current season with “Frankenstein” by Jan Dvorak, “Benjamin” by Peter Ruzicka and “I.th.Ak.A.” by Samuel Penderbayne. Conductors and directors include: Ottavio Dantone, Michael Boder, Gabriele Ferro, Jean-Christophe Spinosi, Paolo Carignani, Christoph Marthaler, Michael Thalheimer, Jette Steckel, Stefan Herheim, Calixto Bieito, Vera Nemirova, Andreas Kriegenburg, Roger Vontobel and Christof Loy.